iOS Kickstarter hit Republique comes to PC and Mac, delivering a terrific graphical upgrade alongside an enthralling plot and claustrophobic stealth gameplay.
Although there are some exceptions, mobile games can get a bad reputation. Whether it’s a prior history of being targeted at a ‘casual’ gaming audience, or those ever-troubling issues with free-to-play mechanics, there are several bugbears found with mobile gaming. Sometimes, it even seems as though the mobile market is almost a separate entity to the rest of gaming.
Not all games follow this same cookie-cutter approach, however, with a number of strong mobile titles available for download. One such example is Republique, a Kickstarter-funded iOS stealth game that has been releasing episodically since December 2013. Since the title’s launch on mobile, it’s also been on the receiving end of a remastered PC release.
Sometimes, ports in general don’t exactly travel well, as seen with the fiasco that is the Batman: Arkham Knight PC release. However, Republique exudes quality on PC. The game has received an overhaul from developer Camouflaj, and now barely looks like a mobile game. Camouflaj developed this remastered edition using the Unity engine, and although it may not have the same definition as AAA smashes such as Metal Gear Solid 5, this fellow stealth title still functions perfectly well.
The scope of Republique is much more compact than the sprawling Kojima Productions epic, however. The Camouflaj-developed title is direct in its approach, and all-too ready to snare players with its moreish gameplay as quickly as possible. In fact, the game relies on one simple instruction: escape.
Republique is a game with surface level simplicity, but with multiple layers underneath. Nowhere is this more obvious than with the plot itself, which revolves around a woman named Hope and her attempts to break free of a facility run by a near-future dystopian government. Taking cues from the likes of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, which itself became one of the weirdest licensed games ever, this ‘Republique’ tries to curb free thought as much as possible.
Although Republique relies upon some well-trodden dystopian paths, such as banned books, corrupt press, and power-hungry thugs, the game has a level of gravitas that is very appealing. The world of the game is complex where necessary, but the fact that the plot revolves around a single character’s desire to be free helps frame it in a way that is in no way overbearing. Republique does plot right, pushing environmental narrative over information dumps, in a similar way to the Bioshock series.
Because of this design choice, players have the option to involve themselves in the story as much as they want. Those who want to can breeze through the game, focusing only on the gameplay at hand. However, there is the freedom to find out more about the complex history and lore of Republique, and even uncover some dark truths about a few of the characters and the game’s government.
It helps that almost each and every item and character in the game can be investigated by the player. Even the generic guards have backstories of their own, the remains of a Kickstarter bonus in which backers could become part of the game. It’s actually a helpful addition, giving even the most minor of grunts some definition alongside a cast of major characters voiced by the likes of Rena Strober, Mass Effect’s Jennifer Hale, and David Hayter.
Each of the investigative elements also helps with the gameplay in general. Whenever the player uncovers a new audiotape, poster, or snippet of information, it can be traded for skills and upgrades, including enemy path tracking or being able to create diversions. It means that the player is rewarded for taking an interest in the back-story of the game, thus helping with the feeling of immersion in general.
Immersion is the name of the game with Republique, with the title easy to find completely enthralling. It’s not just the plot itself, although the determination of Hope is compelling and the grim reality of the facility is oppressively dark. Instead, the gameplay helps keep the player incredibly involved in the proceedings.
This is mainly because of Republique’s controls and mechanics. Unlike most stealth-based games, the player never truly takes direct control of Hope, in spite of her role as the main protagonist. Instead, the player is her eyes and ears, making sure she is safe by investigating ahead and performing actions to keep her on the right track.
The player’s role is as an unnamed and unseen benefactor who helps Hope by exploring the facility through the use of security cameras or unlocking doors akin to certain sections of Watch Dogs. Although the player can direct Hope to take some actions, such as hiding or moving to a certain spot, the player never has control over her specific movements.
During some of the more dangerous parts of the game, the lack of the player’s power in this situation becomes frantically apparent. The player’s safety is never in doubt, but instead the threats are all against Hope, with the protagonist never truly able to defend herself aside from the use of pilfered pepper spray and tasers. It’s a fairly unique approach for a game of this type, and it gives the player and Hope clearly defined roles: it’s her struggle, and the player is trying to help however they can.
It’s perhaps the game’s best triumph, and one that makes sure that the player wants to see the game to the end. Republique is tense, and in the later levels can become challenging, but in the end it’s the player’s desire to see Hope to safety that really sets it apart. Of course, avoiding some issues that befall other games certainly helps, with Camouflaj never veering into frustration territory, offering up a variety of interesting puzzles.
The longevity of Republique may also come down to the game’s mobile roots. Individual rooms are clearly defined, and act as puzzles to solve in their own right. This helps not only by allowing the player to compartmentalize the maze-like facility, but also adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
Something that also improves this moreish quality is the episodic nature of the game. Taking a leaf from The Walking Dead’s book, Republique is kept in five distinct episodes, although so far only four have been released. This might be a reason for the game’s pick up and play, and it’s rare for a stealth game to resist falling into dull or frustrating territory for as long as Republique manages.
Republique is also helped by slight changes in tone between episodes, and one major shift that can be found between episodes three and four. Although there are a few teething issues regarding both the new setting and gameplay, with a move towards early Resident Evil-esque survival horror, it stops the fourth episode from feeling like a re-run of what went before.
That’s not to say that Republique is perfect, as there are a few flaws to be found in the game. Enemy AI in the early episodes is a little simplistic to say the least, meaning that the player is likely to breeze past guards in a sometimes comedic fashion. And occasionally Hope’s pathing is also a little off, taking dangerous routes rather than the easier option.
Overall, however, Republique is a very solid game built around a strong initial premise. The title knows its limits and instead focuses on delivering a tightly-wound stealth game with an interesting story and mechanics. Those after more direct control may find the game frustrating, but Republique is a game that just begs to be played.
Republique is out now for iOS, Android, PC, and Mac, with a PS4 release planned for the future. The fifth episode is expected to launch in early 2016. Game Rant was provided a Steam code for the purposes of this review.